The Ins and Outs of the Disney Dining Plan

Artist Point Screen shot - Signature DiningC
Click on the Dining Plans accepted to get more details on credits

Is it worth it? I struggled with this question about the Disney Dining Plan when I heard the price tag for the first time. We were lucky enough on our first trip to have it included FREE as part of a package deal. Since it was free, I did very little to learn how it works and just swiped my Magic Band like an undisciplined teenager with a credit card. I didn’t use all my credits. I had snacks leftover. It was a mess.

Then, I did something crazy and upgraded to annual passes a few years ago. No more free dining packages! I realized I had to really sit down to understand how this plan worked to determine if it was worth it or not.

Quick Service, Table Service, and Snacks

The Disney Dining Plan essentially lets you “pre-pay” for your meals and snacks for your vacation. Instead of paying at each location, you have credits for different types of food. Overtime you use one, your total is debited. Understanding these credit types is essential to knowing how to use the plan appropriately. Nothing ensures you WON’T get your value out of the Disney Dining Plan like not understanding the different components.

There are three basic classifications of food at Disney that result in three different types of credits:

Snacks

  • Snacks can be a lot of things. Some include drinks (bottled water), treats (cinnamon rolls, Dole Whips), or small servings/appetizers in the parks (think all of the small servings during the Food and Wine Festival).
    • Snacks can be combined to create a Quick Service meal. Three snacks = One Quick Service
      • You can’t go the opposite direction though. A Quick Service doesn’t break down into 3 snacks. You only snack up, not down.

Quick Service

  • Quick Service – Think of Quick Service like a drive-thru or fast-food. You usually go up to a counter/register to order and then eat at a table you select in the dining area.
    • Quick Service meals include an entrée and a beverage.

Table Service

  • Table Service  – Table Service is restaurant-style service. The food is usually more upscale than Quick-Service and service includes wait staff.
    • Table Service meals include an entrée and beverage. They also include dessert for lunch or dinner.
    • Table Service may also be a buffet or family style meal.
    • All Character Meals are Table Service.
    • While reservations are not always required, you will be hard-pressed to get into the popular Table Service just walking up.
    • Epcot has the largest number of Table Service, almost one in each country pavilion, of any park.

Who gets a Disney Dining Plan

3 Years and Older

I was so confused on our first trip when my son didn’t get included in the Disney Dining Plan. Dining Plans are only available for children 3 years of age and older. The reason is that children 2 years and younger are allowed to share plates without purchasing a meal. At a buffet, this is great because they can eat almost anything. At the Quick Service or non-buffet table service, it means you have to purchase a meal if you don’t have enough to share.

Packages / Add-ons

Anyone staying on Disney property can have a Disney Dining Plan added on to their trip. Although it is sold most frequently as part of a Magic Your Way package (tickets, room, and meal), you can add on a Disney Dining Plan to a room-only package.

  • Free Dining : Everyone loves the free dining packages. They aren’t offered year-round but are usually announced in the spring. It does come with a non-discounted room and ticket package so don’t decide it’s not worth it unless it’s free. A 20% discount on rooms can hep make up the cost pretty quick!
  • Annual Passes : With annual passes, this is what we usually do. Adding a dining plan on does require you to pay for your whole trip earlier. A room-only reservation can be paid when you check-in to the hotel. A room and dining package must be paid in full 30 days in advance.
  • DVC Rental : You can also add a Dining plan on if you are taking advantage of one of the DVC rental markets. The Dining Plan has to be requested by the DVC owner, so you do need to make this request at least 30 days in advance.

Disney Dining Plan Options

There are three different options for the dining plan. Each option provides you with increasingly higher quality and/or quantity of food each day. There are changes to the plans almost every year, but the basics stay the same. The meals below are listed per day along with the price for 2018:

2018 Disney Dining Plan Pricing Adult Price Per Day Child Price Per Day
10 years or Older 3-9 Years Old
Quick Service Dining Plan $52.50 $21.74
     2 Quick-Service meals
     2 snacks
     1 refillable mug
Disney Dining Plan $75.49 $25.75
     1 Table Service meal
     1 Quick-Service meal
     2 snacks
     1 refillable mug
Deluxe Disney Dining Plan $116.25 $39.99
     3 meals (any kind)
     2 snacks
     1 refillable mug

The refillable mug is probably my least favorite part of the Dining plan. It only works at the resorts, so you can’t take it to the park to fill up. It also is only good for fountain drinks. For someone who tries to shy away from sodas for themselves and kids, we just don’t get the value out of it. We always get one because they are fun designs, but it’s the least impactful part of the plan for us.

A big change for 2018 is the inclusion of alcoholic beverages for those 21 and older. Until now, only non-alcoholic beverage were included in the plans.

How to Use the Dining Plan

Choose Your Restaurant / Meal

You can search Walt Disney World’s website for restaurants participating in the Dining plan. At the far right, there is a filter for the accepted Dining Plans.

Walt Disney World website screen shot - filter by dining plan

You can filter the restaurant list by Dining Plan.

This is especially helpful if you are going to grab a meal at Disney Springs. There are some restaurants that participate in the Dining Plan and many that do not. We have made reservations before, only to find out they do not participate. For example, there is a Character Meal a Garden Grove in the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel. We booked it only to realize they do not participate in the Dining Plan and had to cancel.

Screen Shot Swan Hotel

The Dining Plan isn’t offered at the Garden Grove character experience.

The Signature Dining Series

You may think you are home free understanding the dining plan, and then they throw in “Signature Dining.” Certain Table Service restaurant are labeled “Signature Dining’ and actually require 2 credits for a meal. These are usually the more pricy, up-scale options or the big dinner shows. To find out how many credits are necessary at your selected restaurant, you can click on the “Dining Plans Accepted.” This will open a window for you to see the necessary credits. All “Fine/Signature” will require 2.

Artist Point Screen shot - Signature DiningC

Click on the Dining Plans accepted to get more details on credits

 

Magic Band Connection

The Dining Plan connects with your Magic Band. If you aren’t sure what those are yet, you can find more information in the Guide to Disney’s Magic Band. When you go to pay for your meal, you simply alert your waiter or the cast member manning the Quick Service register that you would like to use your dining plan. You will scan you band and enter your PIN number.

Tracking Usage

You can track your available meals three different ways:

  1. Receipts – Check the bottom of your dining receipts to see your available balance.
  2. Concierge / Guest Services – The Concierge at your Resort can print off your available balances at any time for you.
  3. My Disney Experience App – Walt Disney World added the ability to check you meal balance in the MDE app in 2017.
    1. After you have checked-in to the Resort, open the MDE App.
    2. Scroll to “My Plans” and select “Check Dining Plan”. It will show you a breakdown of how many credits you have left. You can see screen shots at Chip and Company.

Summary

The Disney Dining Plan can seem really confusing when you first start trying to figure it out. Like everything else with Disney, each person you ask will have their own opinions about whether or not it is worth it. The most straight-forward answer I can give is “It Depends.” If you don’t use all your meal credits, it’s definitely not worth it. If you don’t schedule character meals, I don’t personally think it’s worth it either. But for you to answer this question yourself, you have to understand how it works:

  1. Three Types of Meals included:
    1. Snacks
    2. Quick Service
    3. Table Service
  2. You have to stay on property, and if you want a free dining plan, be prepared to pay full price for your room and tickets.
  3. Three Options, each with increasing cost and features:
    1. Quick Service Dining Plan
    2. Disney Dining Plan
    3. Deluxe Disney Dining Plan

There are lots of ways to squeeze more value out of it, but that’s another post!



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